Announcing the celebration of a Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis explained he would open the door of mercy at St Peter's on the feast of the Immaculate Conception (08 December) and invited the dioceses of the rest of the world to do the same the following Sunday (13 December).
Looking back I realise we all chose the day we thought better according to our local situation. The Vicariate of Ingwavuma did it on Sunday 06 December (before Pope Francis did it in Rome), other dioceses chose to "join" Pope Francis and did it on Tuesday 08 December. The Diocese of Manzini... on Friday evening. Pope Francis himself had opened the first door of mercy in November during his visit to Central African Republic.
While probably most of the dioceses chose to do it during a daily Mass, our priests suggested we begin the Jubilee with a vigil of prayer to be started at 8 pm outside the Cathedral and would finish at 6 am. So we did!
Fr Dumisani Vilakati led the very first moment of our gathering explaining briefly and clearly the meaning of a Jubilee in the Bible and of this particular Jubilee of Mercy. We read a passage from the Gospel of Luke and a few paragraphs from Pope Francis' letter announcing the Jubilee. We then proceeded to the entrance of the Cathedral and the door of mercy was opened. Led by the cross and the book of the Gospels we all went in. We were not just going into the church like we do every day. Going through this "door of mercy" we wanted to welcome this special time of grace being offered to us.
Practically all the priests and Religious Sisters serving in our diocese were present together with delegates from all the parishes. The Cathedral was full. Some could not stay the whole night and others arrived as soon as they could. It was clear everyone wanted to be present and welcome this time of grace in their own lives. It did not matter how hot it was outside or inside the church!
Fr Magagula reflected on mercy as God's forgiveness preparing us all to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. For this particular event the priests of the diocese had indicated their wish to be the first "to go for confession" (as we usually say). Quoting St Agustin who used to tell his people: "for you I am a bishop, with you I am a Christian" I explain that bishops and priests do celebrate this sacrament in our lives as we are sinners too even though people might not have a chance of seeing us do so. This time, they did. We were the first ones to welcome God's forgiveness in our lives.
For the next two hours and while the choir led everyone in prayer, bishop and priests made themselves available to those who wanted to hear once again those loving words... "I absolve you from your sins... go in peace!".
The words chosen by Pope Francis to lead us during this Jubilee have been taken from Luke 6:36 "Be merciful like the Father". Fr Makama helped us all to reflect on the different ways each one of us, our families and communities could be merciful to others.
A Catholic webpage offered a list of "56 Ways to Be Merciful During the Jubilee Year of Mercy". These are just a few indications which help us see how rich this Jubilee time can be.
Fr Makama's reflection was followed by the celebration of the Mass and later on, led by the "Divine Mercy" sodality we walked and prayed outside the Cathedral to the Salesian School and back.
Fr Ncamiso Vilakati led most of the rest of the night, first inviting everyone to come to the altar for the laying on of hands by the priests and later on for a special time of prayer and offerings.
During the coming Jubilee, the priests of the diocese would like to join the priests of the world coming together in Rome to pray with Pope Francis. Parishes are being asked to help make this possible. On that evening one by one joyfully and prayerfully brought their first donations.
It was a time of "giving" and "receiving". The tradition of our church indicates seven "spiritual works of mercy" and seven "material works of mercy". So, after handing over their donations, the chairperson of the parish would take one of each as "homework" for their community. During the year, at the meeting of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, they will be reporting back on the practical initiatives taken to implement them.
The vigil concluded with the celebration of the second Mass and the final blessing.
We had all come into the church through the same door... the door of mercy. We all left through the same door of mercy remembering that we had been called to be "merciful like the Father".